Sands of Mars

Although his first two major stories had been published back-to-back in Astounding in April and May 1946, Arthur Charles Clarke boasted only a handful of credits, most of them in second-tier magazines or even fanzines, before 1951. At best he would be considered a rising young author, but he wasn’t young. Born in 1917, he was two years older than Frederik Pohl, three years older than Isaac Asimov. World War II interrupted his career and so did a return to college to get his degree.

Those stories were building him a reputation as the quintessential hard science fiction writer and he was that then-exotic being – a Briton. All of which no doubt played a large part in Martin Greenberg deciding to make Sands of Mars Gnome’s first book to have not had a previous US publication. The UK firm of Sidgwick & Jackson published it as The Sands of Mars in November 1951. Gnome left off the definite article and so did the first paperback edition, by Pocket Books in 1954, but seemingly all the later reprint publishers reverted to the original. The copyright page says it is a First Edition, which is legitimate, as Gnome’s is the first American edition and that’s standard for first American editions. The copyright date is given as 1952, the year of American publication.

The Gnome bibliography, however, is a mess and I’m going to make it worse.

The first, 1952, printing was the then-standard 5000 copies. Clarke’s swiftly rising popularity forced Greenberg to print another 3000. ESHBACH and KEMP list two undated printings of 1500 copies each; CHALKER states that 3000 were printed in 1955, with half bound then and half later, in 1957. I’m inclined to go with ESHBACH; he consulted with Greenberg on these details. If correct, this title is unique in having the only Gnome 3rd printing. Even if the later output was merely a new binding, that allows for three boards states or three interior states. Nobody talks about these. CURREY doesn’t mention Gnome at all as it wasn’t the true first printing. As far as most references are concerned, only a single state exists for the books. KEMP wrote that the 3rd printing had yellow lettering. I haven’t been able to confirm this. Contrarily, we know of three jacket states. The front covers are subtly different but obvious when placed side-by-side. Ric Binkley’s dense star field is reduced to a comparatively few dots; the planets gain a dot pattern; the font changes, and Binkley’s name disappears. The flaps and the rear covers also differ.

The Gnome first printing came out in April 1952. Doubleday’s Science Fiction Book Club released its edition in January of 1953. The ISFDB gets that date and the fact there were four printings from the “copyright page of the Pocket PB edition,” presumably the April 1954 Pocket Book #989. CHALKER says this edition was “printed almost simultaneously by U.S. SF Book Club from Gnome plates using same title page.”

Even so, the BCE is easy to differentiate. The SFBC collected a number of titles before it launched so that it had stock to advertise in a huge campaign that took in newspapers as well as the more obvious science fiction magazine audience. The ad below is from the November 1953 Galaxy.

SFBC ad Galaxy October 1953

(Just as an aside, can you spot what’s missing from the ad that makes it truly weird to modern eyes? No authors’ names. The books are being sold as generic commodities, worth buying merely because they are science fiction, especially odd considering that the ad was appearing in a publication whose readers would certainly be familiar with sf authors’ names. Even more strangely, the newspaper ad given in SFBC page, aimed at an ostensibly non-core, non-fan audience, does include authors’ names.)

Sands of Mars is one of the original titles, shown in the ad with the original Gnome cover. The larger newspaper ad has nine titles, all with their original covers, and adds A. E. van Vogt’s The Mixed Men, also from Gnome. For no reason that I can discover, the actual dust jackets of those two BCEs are text only, the only two that changed the jacket illustration. I can only assume that Gnome was the cause but no logical explanation comes to me. Sands of Mars BCE coverAs with other BCEs, the volume was printed more cheaply. The cover boards are a dull maroon and the paper used for the text is thinner. The look and feel of a BCE is immediately apparent to a collector. On the interior, a leaf with “Non-fiction books by Arthur C. Clarke” is missing. The FIRST EDITION statement is stricken from the copyright page.

Sands of Mars copyright page 1953 SFBCA check of the other SFBC Gnomes shows exactly the same pattern. Both The Mixed Men and Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation have similar boards and similar paper. In each, the leaf with “other books by” is missing. And the First Edition statement is missing. With one, much later, exception no SFBC books are known to have retained the First Edition statement.

It seems almost certain that BCEs are immediately sortable from their first hardback editions. Or so we think. Can we be absolutely sure that all four SFBC printings of Sands of Mars used this identical format? No evidence is available that proves otherwise… but no evidence confirms it either. Still, the absence of evidence in any reference work is compelling.

I make the point for this reason: if all the BCEs look like BCEs then all the ones that look like Gnomes probably are Gnomes. And if this is true then careful examination reveals points that distinguish among the Gnome printings.

The tell is on the copyright page. There are two variants.

Sands of Mars copyright page 1952 redSands of Mars copyright page 1957 redThe top page, with the Manufactured by H. Wolff, New York, line appears in my copy with the 1952 cover. The bottom page, the manufacturer being Noble Offset Printers, Inc., is from a copy with the 1957 cover. Only four other Gnomes – the four Judith Merril best of the year anthologies – were produced by Noble. Those appeared in late 1956 and June of 1957, 1958, and 1959. Seeing the Noble name in another 1957 title is reasonable.

Every image of a copy of a Gnome Sands of Mars I can find shows dark red boards. The 1952 boards on my copy are a subtly lighter shade of red than my 1957 copy (I don’t have the 1955), but I’m not sure whether this is normal dye variation by the manufacturer, age-darkening, or a true variant shade.

Therefore I am pleased and rather stunned to show this:

Sands of Mars light green boardsExcept for the color it is identical to the 1957 red boards in every way. Same cover, same copyright page with the mention of Noble, same paper.

What is it? A new printing? A variant binding? A special library edition, since my copy is ex-library? I’ve insisted throughout this site that the Gnome depths are uncharted and far vaster than any previous reference has indicated. But even I’m surprised by finding this.

August Derleth reviewed the book for the October 2, 1952 Madison Capital Times:

[B]etter than the average interplanetary.

Groff Conklin reviewed it for the October 1952 Galaxy:

Like Prelude [to Space] it is utterly real, as real as only someone who knows the current facts about space flight can make this sort of imaginative writing.


Sands of Mars, by Arthur C. Clarke. 1952, title #25, 216 pages, $2.75. 5000 copies printed, 1952; 1500 copies printed, 1955, 1500 copies printed, 1957.

1) Hardback, dark red boards with black spine lettering, printed 1952. Jacket design by Ric Binkley. “FIRST EDITION” on copyright page. Manufactured in the U.S.A. by H. Wolff, New York. Dust jacket: front cover: dense star field, smooth planets, Binkley signature; front flap: paragraphs indented; rear flap: 18 titles, through Sands of Mars itself. Back cover: 4 titles, all Greenberg anthologies; Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3

2) Hardback, dark red boards with black spine lettering, printed 1955. Jacket design by Ric Binkley. [copyright page information not available to me] Dust jacket: front cover: sparse star field, mottled planets, no signature; front flap: paragraphs flush justified; rear flap: Two More Great Books by Arthur C. Clarke; rear cover: 32 titles, the latest being Clarke’s own Prelude to Space, the last book Gnome put out in 1954; Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3

3) Hardback, dark red boards with black spine lettering, printed 1957. Jacket design by Ric Binkley. “FIRST EDITION” on copyright page. Manufactured in the U.S.A. by Noble Offset Printers, Inc. Dust jacket: front cover: sparse star field, mottled planets, no signature; front flap: paragraphs flush justified; rear flap: Two More Great Books by Arthur C. Clarke; back cover: 37 titles, the latest being Poul Anderson & Gordon Dickson’s Earthman’s Burden, the last book Gnome put out in 1957; Gnome Press address given as P. O. Box 161 Hicksville, N.Y.

variant, not in Chalker

4) Hardback, light green boards with black spine lettering, printed 1957. Jacket design by Ric Binkley. “FIRST EDITION” on copyright page. Manufactured in the U.S.A. by Noble Offset Printers, Inc. Dust jacket: front cover: sparse star field, mottled planets, no signature; front flap: paragraphs flush justified; rear flap: Two More Great Books by Arthur C. Clarke; back cover: 37 titles, the latest being Poul Anderson & Gordon Dickson’s Earthman’s Burden, the last book Gnome put out in 1957; Gnome Press address given as P. O. Box 161 Hicksville, N.Y.

Sands of Mars dark red boardsSands of Mars light green boards

Sands of Mars jacket front first stateSands of Mars jacket flaps first stateSands of Mars jacket front second stateSands of Mars jacket flapsSands of Mars jacket front third state Sands of Mars jacket flaps third state

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